The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 14-15, 2010
Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Dear Friends in Christ,
A man came into town promising to make everyone rich if they would just invest in his company. Of course he ran off with the money and everyone was poorer. The most greedy, who then of course invested the most, suffered the most. We have names for men like the one that came to town. We call them con men, confidence men, flim flam men, and the like. They are evil men in a sense. But they prey upon other men’s evil, particularly greed. In the old days, con men supposedly had a code. Perhaps this is romanticized, but I have heard it said many times. The old con men never wanted to hurt the innocent. They preyed upon the greedy and worldly. A good con was supposed to draw people in at what ever level of greed they possessed. A truly honest person would avoid their schemes. In this way, con men also revealed hypocrisy. Many would claim not to be greedy, but the con men would show them to be the greedy pigs they were. So a good con man, according to the code, would never prey on the innocent, only upon the guilty.
There is a another kind of con man. This type is common today. This type preys upon the piety and innocence of people. It is the false prophet. There are two types of false prophets - those who are simply trying to line their pockets, and those who actually believe their own lies.
The first group includes many of our television evangelists. The British rock band Genesis led by singer Phil Collins did a song and music video called “Jesus He Knows Me” about this type of false prophet. This secular rock band was willing to say what many in the church were unwilling to say. These men and women are self serving hypocrites. They are not preaching Christ, they are preaching themselves. But they are not just on television. We see them in the local parishes as the marrying sams, or more recently the burying sams, who jump at any chance to earn an extra buck, and often times to do so compromise the word of God. This is part of the reason we don’t have set fees for pastoral services. Funerals and weddings are not there to line the pastor’s pocket. We also have such men in the local parishes in those who are constantly jockeying to “move up the ladder.”
The other type, those who believe their own lies are more insidious. They actually think that they are expressing God’s word and God’s will. Such men are earnest and well intentioned. They can appear to be very outwardly godly, sometimes more godly than those who teach the truth. But in the end they are preaching people into hell. Such men exist in our own community, and even in some cases in our own church body. This is why you must know the Scriptures and the confessions so that you can spot such charlatans. This type is only revealed by comparing their words to the words of Scripture.
What about our lay people. Can they be false prophets? Yes, though often in a different way for different reasons. Usually here the push is to abandon any preaching or teaching of sin, because such teaching might break relationships. Adulters might stop coming to church, pastor, if you preach that adultery is a sin. Often when you are told such things, the child or children of the one saying it are the adulterers. Pastor if you talk about sin, thanksgiving dinner is really going to be uncomfortable for our family. No one every stops to consider what true repentance might do to strengthen our relationships. For no sin is unforgivable save that of unbelief. What has become the ultimate sin in many people’s minds is homosexuality. Homosexuals repent all the time. We have a large and growing body of people in the U.S. who call themselves former homosexuals. Repentance and forgiveness is God’s plan for dealing with sin. It really does work every time its put into effect.
Here in our text, God warns us through the prophet Jeremiah that we must not listen to false prophets. We must not make light of sin. God does hate sin. God punishes sin both here in time and in eternity. Sometimes the punishment of sin is delayed because it would also harm God’s people. Consider this example. A Christian pastor needs an operation to save his life. But only one doctor in the world is skilled enough to do it. This doctor happened to be a feminist, Hindu, lesbian. Does this pastor refuse to have the surgery because of the doctor’s beliefs. No. He has the surgery and continues to preach the Word. He should pray that this doctor would come to repentance and faith, but he should go to the doctor nevertheless. But if God were to kill this woman as punishment for her sins, this pastor would die as well. Thus God sometimes delays His punishments for the sake of His people. But that does not mean He doesn’t punish.
In Jeremiah’s day, God said that the nation of Judah would be conquered by Babylon for its
sins of idolatry. This was an inevitability. The die was cast. Jeremiah was sent to warn people to accept God’s judgement. Their survival would be determined by their acceptance of the judgement. But many false prophets preached that Judah would not fall. They said that sins were not really sins and that God was not angry with the nation. The day came when the city of Jerusalem was attacked, the walls breeched, the king captured, the people carted off into exile. For those who resisted God’s judgement, horrible things happened. Many were killed. The king himself had to watch his children executed in front of him, and then his eyes were put out. Babylon carried this out, but it was the judgement of God.
So also in our day, the judgments of God are real. They don’t go away because we wish them away. But God also has a plan for our survival. It starts with Christ bearing our sins to the cross. It includes our recognition of our own sins. It includes repentance, that is the turning from our sins. It includes our being raised to life in the waters of baptism. It includes our sins being forgiven. It include our living in God’s presence through the Lord’s Supper. It includes our being taken to heaven and being seated at God’s banquet table, to remain forever. Think back to the parent who is worried about their temporary, earthly relationship with their children. What is this compared to the eternal relationship that God desires to have with us? Thus we cannot ignore sin. We cannot ignore false teachers. These things must be confronted on the basis of God’s Word. We must be turned to repentance so that we also receive the forgiveness of our sins from Christ, our Lord.